Three Indicted in El Paso for Federal Firearms Violations under Project Guardian | USAO-WDTX

A federal grand jury in El Paso indicted three individuals for their roles in a scheme to straw purchase firearms and smuggle them into Mexico, announced U.S. Attorney Gregg N. Sofer and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey C. Boshek, II, Dallas Field Office. This case is being brought as part of Project Guardian, a Department of Justice initiative designed to address firearms related crime.  It also highlights the Department of Justice’s efforts to stem the illegal flow of firearms into Mexico, where they are often used by criminal cartels to commit acts of extraordinary violence.

“We are absolutely committed to stemming the illegal flow of firearms into Mexico.  If you are engaged in illegal gun trafficking, you can expect to be investigated and prosecuted.  If you straw purchase a weapon, that is, lie about the true purchaser of a firearm, you face substantial time in federal prison,” stated U.S. Attorney Sofer.

A six-count federal grand jury indictment unsealed today in federal court in El Paso charges 37-year-old Herbert Serrano, a citizen of Mexico, 22-year-old El Paso resident Israel Ruiz Esparza and 21-year-old El Paso resident Raul Mendoza with one count of conspiracy to smuggle goods from the U.S.; one count of attempting to smuggle goods from the U.S.; and two counts of making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm.  The indictment also charges Ruiz and Mendoza with one count of unlawful user in possession of a firearm. 

Federal authorities in El Paso arrested Ruiz and Mendoza yesterday afternoon; Serrano, on Friday, October 23.

According to the indictment, the defendants allegedly conspired for approximately one month beginning in February 2020, to knowingly obtain firearms in the U.S. and export them to Mexico without a license.  The indictment further alleges Mendoza provided false written information while allegedly straw purchasing a 9mm pistol for Serrano on March 2, 2020.  The indictment also alleges that Ruiz provided false written information while allegedly straw purchasing three 9mm pistols for Serrano on March 26, 2020.  Furthermore, at the time of the firearms purchases, both Ruiz and Mendoza knew that they were unlawful users or addicted to a controlled substance making them prohibited persons from possessing firearms under federal law.

“ATF and it’s partners are fully committed to preventing the flow of illegal firearms to Mexico. If you are involved in this, you are now on notice that the ATF will investigate and eventually arrest you,” stated ATF Special Agent in Charge Boshek.

Each count calls for up to ten years in federal prison upon conviction.    The defendants remain in federal custody pending detention hearings.  Serrano is scheduled for tomorrow at 8:15am before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leon Schydlower.  Ruiz and Mendoza are expected to have their detention hearing sometime next week in U.S. Magistrate Court in El Paso.

The ATF is conducting this investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alejandro G. Ortega is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

An indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt.  The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

This Project Guardian case is among more than 350 pending firearms cases in the Western District of Texas.

Project Guardian is the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and, ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities. Click here for more information about Project Guardian.

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The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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